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Pitching in for gifts for troops

Students in a number of schools are responding to the war in Iraq by baking brownies, writing letters, collecting money and gathering care items for U.S. troops, usually ones they know personally.

Some of the students are against the war. Others believe in the cause. All say they support the military men and women and want to show their appreciation for the sacrifices being made so far from home.

"We want to help them kind of feel at home and let them know people are supporting them," said Peter Spedale, 17, a senior at Richards High School in Oak Lawn and co-vice president of the National Honor Society. About 100 students who are members of that honor group or class officers helped package the donations Friday at the school.

They and other school groups know the USO and American Red Cross have been asked to curtail donations of anything but money for U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. The donations were overwhelming officials, who requested that care packages be limited to friends and family of specific troops.

And that's what faculty sponsors Debbie Swanson, a math teacher, and Karen Warmbir, a government teacher, were doing. Spedale's cousin, Tommy Holt, 27, of Berwyn, who is in the Army's 101st Airborne Division, will be receiving one of the packages.

Nesreen Ramli, also a Richards senior, said she was glad she could do something to help the troops and thought the effort was important for everyone at the school.

"Despite my feelings of being opposed to the war, I still feel all the troops are just young people like we are, and I'm sure they want to be home in a different atmosphere," said Ramli, president of the school's National Honor Society. "A lot of the people in this school have family there, and it brings a warm feeling to know they can help."

At Blue Island's Eisenhower High School, students in the Junior ROTC have been collecting donations for the troops and writing them letters of appreciation.

Larry Resendez, a retired chief warrant officer with the Marines, who teaches the program, said the donations would be sent to about 15 specific members of the military, including some of his former JROTC students and "brothers" in the Marines.

"If you get them involved, they really enjoy it," he said. And he encourages the letters because he knows troops prize such correspondence. At Geneva High School, students in the Culinary Arts Club recently baked cookies and brownies to raise money for the USO to buy goods for enlisted men and women. Terry Burns, student activities director, said they also were planning to gather the names of local residents serving in the military overseas and place service flags listing their names in one of the school's hallways.

Pupils at Summit Hill Junior High School in Frankfort are writing letters to relatives and friends in the military overseas and collecting personal-care items for them. The letters are being written in language arts and history classes and after school.

"It gives the students an opportunity to express a caring and concern for the young men and women who are facing some very difficult conditions," Acting Principal John Loecke said. "They feel really good about what they're doing, and that's a good feeling for kids to have."

Resendez and other veterans said such efforts can make a tremendous difference in morale for the troops, both as they face the adversity of war and after they return home. Such community support was virtually absent in the Vietnam War, and that dealt a cruel blow to the morale of the troops, they said.

"The biggest thing these kids are looking for is support from home," said Steve Plyman of Justice, who served as a helicopter crew chief and aeroscout in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972 and is a member of the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association in Memphis.

"It [such support] would have given us the sense that we were being supported, that not everyone in the world hated us."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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